MATH….A word that strikes loathsome fear or dewy-eyed love in the hearts of us all. If you had asked me what I thought about math in high school, I would have told you that it’s okay. I was proficient. If I had learned it first the Montessori Way, I think I would have LOVED it. I started off in my professional career in my 20’s as an English and History public middle school teacher in California, but I took some math courses and applied to teach up to 9th grade math, and obtained my certificate. I had been tutoring teenagers in my spare time to make extra money and they all had issues in their math classes, and I was broke, so I reviewed the material and showed them how to do it…and grew to love the problem solving nature of solving for X. Which brings me to even more problem solving questions…why is it always trying to be found? Why is its identity such a secret? Gasp! Could it be a superheroine in disguise?!? (how my husband stays married to me when I go off on tangents like this is beyond me 😉 ). What I learned from teaching ninth grade Algebra for many years was that most of my students didn’t understand the basics, which left them struggling that much more than they should have had to.
How does Montessori math teach our children the concepts of math so well? What is it actually teaching? How do we graduate 5 year olds who know how to count into the thousands with ease and even multiply, third grade skills? I happily present to you my fave subject at Sunrise Montessori, mathematics!, in all its beautiful and unadorned glory.
What makes learning math the Montessori way different?
Let’s start with the hands-on, concrete nature of the materials. Beautiful in their simplicity, they take the most complicated of math concepts and break them into easy-to-understand bits of information. Source #2 How does it begin? Let’s take Number Counters. See picture:
A child learns from the beginning that math is order. When John was one year old, he was adamant that my shoes be lined up in pairs in my closet and not just tossed off when I got home (if only that stage had lasted!). This is something all children display because they are curious about order. The order of things, the order of our world. Once they master order, they move on to problem solving, by manipulating in groups, such as a group or base of ten in the Montessori curriculum. The base of 10 is EVERYwhere in Mathland (and chemistry and…). It’s also the easiest way to add up large sums quickly. You can’t easily learn more difficult concepts until you understand, really truly nuts-and-bolts understand, the basics. Montessori materials work off of the concept of 10, so that once mastered, they can advance into adding and subtracting with hundreds and then thousands. After all, if you take, let’s say…53 – 18…and you write it out on paper, you “borrow 10,” crossing out the 5 and write in a 4. What is it that you are doing when you cross out that 5? If you understood WHY you subtract the way you do, wouldn’t that have made what comes after that much easier? Well, we teach that using the Montessori curriculum. Montessori starts with objects, like counters, to help a child understand what the symbol is at the top, which we call a number, and we use manipulatives they can handle with their fingers to increase comprehension. Montessori curriculum always starts from the concrete and THEN moves to the abstract, which is the easiest way to grasp new concepts.
How does the Montessori method build from single to four digit numbers?
After mastering the number counters and sandpaper numbers, children are presented lessons by their Lead Teacher on other forms of number manipulations (see pictures above). We don’t rush it and we don’t just show them ONE way of thinking about numbers. We introduce them to beads and rods and all sorts of objects so that it’s embedded into their minds. Once they have that down, which happens at a slower or faster pace depending on the child, they are introduced to the really fun stuff, like how to add or work with double digit numbers, first with manipulatives and then on paper, see picture below.
Think back to when your baby was crawling and pulling himself up to stand…overnight, it seemed like he was running all over the house, right? He was mastering all the basics of balance and building muscles, which was led to you putting locks on your front door so high that they couldn’t be reached. (At least, that was our experience.) It’s the same for your child learning math the Montessori way.
How does the Montessori math method create such a high level of problem solving in children so young?
The quick answer is that it’s a well-planned curriculum. If you are nerdy like me and want to learn more the developmental approach and what the materials look like that we use for each level, you can check this webpage out. The longer answer is naturally more complicated because there are so many aspects that tie together, from self-correcting materials (so a child knows when they have made a mistake and can go back to correct it, like running out of counters) to learning about order (aka math) in our other materials, like Sensorial and Practical Life, to figuring out “skip” counting with the golden beads (you can have your child practice skip counting on this fun website). Brick by brick, they are building their towards a higher and higher complexity of mental manipulation.
See the picture below of the double digit numbers with beads placed next to them? That smart little cookie has learned that 10 beads on that string of golden beads adds up to ten, so she doesn’t have to count each individual bead anymore! And see the picture of the boy below showing off his impressive work into the thousands? He’s showing his math smarts in multiple ways.
What is MOST important to remember in all this as a Montessori parent?
Your attitude matters. Even if you secretly DESPISE math (hey, I despise shopping, we all have our thing), it’s VITAL that your child not hear you talk about it that way. Your interest also counts. Show them one of the pictures your teachers sent you on Preschool2Me and ask what they are doing. You can also check your child’s progress on Montessori Compass, the software we use to track your child’s development in all subjects. Give the impression that you think math is rad (it likely already is to your child). Think about how important math is down the road, how much math YOU use. From budgeting to paying the bills to skill sets in our jobs, we use math every day. It’s just problem solving, a puzzle if you will, a game. And like an adult Dungeon Master (really, if you have to ask, you don’t want to know), your child will not only be ahead of their peers on day one, they will also associate math in their mind positively, all because they learned math the Montessori way!
I have a feeling that if you or your child’s other parent is not pro math, it’s because you/they weren’t a Montessori student or didn’t have inspiring math teachers. Isn’t it nice though that you don’t have to worry about your child not liking math? With our Montessori trained Primary Lead Teachers and vast variety of math materials coupled with your child’s innate curiosity and your interest as their parent, math will never strike fear into your child’s heart like our elders of yesteryear. It’s the gift of giving that pays dividends for decades to come 🙂 .
- Software we use to record progress: https://montessoricompass.com/mathematics
- Videos of math lessons:
- There are two videos, Numbers and Counters and Geometry Cabinet, at https://sunrise-montessori.com/what-is-the-montessori-method/maria-montessori-classroom. Scroll down the page to find them along with our other videos from our long tenured teachers, Ms. Lara and Ms. Jessica.